Late to the Party

All it took was a couple of trips to Japan to sort out what the problem was. I loved the images from my first trip with the Leica M262 but felt frustrated by the tactile experience of the rangefinder kit. The weight, forgetting to re-register lenses in the menu every time I switched lenses, the lack of accurate exposure information, out of spec lenses with back focusing. Despite the results, as a whole it didn't balance out as a net positive for me. But I kept going back and comparing the images from the M with those of the X100F. The experience of using the X100F is a dream, it's nearly perfect in execution, but as I found out in Tokyo, the image quality, specifically in low-light, is marginal at times and the focusing in low-light is dubious. The images from the M just snap. I want a camera that gives me the haptics of the Fuji but the image quality of the Leica. 

The Leica Q is close; darn close. Wonderfully, frustratingly, close. 

 Leica Q in all it's expensive glory. 

Leica Q in all it's expensive glory. 

The problem I have with Leica is one of value. It isn't the absolute number of dollars that bothers me so much; it is the feeling that one isn't getting as much for their money as one could. Their products are (usually) great, but are they worth the premium? That's where value becomes important, and value is relative to each individual. No one likes to feel they're being ripped off, even if the cost is within their means. Leica products toe that line. That was the first mental hurdle. Second, this camera was released two years ago. That's an eternity in the digital world, although not in the Leica world. Having had the camera for a couple of months now, I can put both of these issues to rest. I don't feel ripped off, I feel I got something great for the investment (but it could be a little cheaper, geez come on) and second, the camera still feels very fresh. 

 With Leica handgrip and Gordy's strap.

With Leica handgrip and Gordy's strap.

The Leica Q feels like it was designed for a street photographer. The lens includes marks for hyperfocal distance – such a joy! The thumb dial is firm but quick for changing exposure compensation (or other functions). The EVF is bright without lag. The camera reacts very quickly, autofocus is exceptionally fast and accurate, even in lower light. The weight and size of the camera are balanced out nicely and it fits well in the hand. 

The star however is the brilliant 28mm lens. The lens is sharp from f 1.7 on up. The images have snap, and the color right from the RAW (DNG) is brilliant and beautiful. Most other cameras need a little boost from the RAW file but not these. Perhaps Leica is cooking them ahead of time but they're great and they don't look overdone. The 28mm field-of-view is a reasonable choice for a street photographer. There is an option for digital frame overlays for 35mm and 50mm crops which I enjoy using. It helps with framing and the DNG file opens in Lightroom with the crop already done (the full 28mm image is still available when shooting in DNG format). Some have called this gimmicky but if you've shot with a rangefinder, it's not that unusual to use frames to shoot. Images cropped to the 35mm and 50mm sizes still look fantastic and lose very little quality.  I've honestly had to check to make sure some images were cropped because the quality is so good, I simply couldn't tell. 

 With Gordy's wrist strap

With Gordy's wrist strap

One of my favorite features is that switching to manual focus is accomplished with a little button on the lens tab. You can quickly switch to manual focus which will instantly turn on focusing aids if selected in the menu, such as focus peaking. Focusing the lens feels like focusing a real, manual lens, with the right amount of resistance, and a hard stop at each end. I've used manual focusing and hyperfocal distances many times on other cameras but typically the focus rings are way too loose and get changed easily and they don't have a hard stop at the end for quick close/middle/distance changes that you can adjust without looking. This alone makes the camera a joy for using on the street. 

I added both the Leica handgrip and the thumbs up; neither seemed absolutely necessary on this camera as it already feels good in the hand, but I like a little extra grip. If I had to pick one over the other, the grip seems to have added more than the thumbs up, which is a contrast to the Leica M which I felt the thumbs up was more helpful. 

 Leica Q with thumbs up

Leica Q with thumbs up

There are a few things I think are not so perfect about this camera. I'm not 100% sure that the lens is actually 28mm. It seems a little bit wider at times; I notice a little bit more distortion than I've seen with other 28mm lenses. I did a head-to-head comparison with another 28mm lens and the Leica was a bit wider. This is probably the thing that bothers me the most, as I don't mind 28mm, but if I had to choose I'd probably have picked a 35mm field of view, so even a few degrees wider than 28mm irks me a little. I might be wrong about this, but I'm suspicious. 

The camera is nearly perfect for street photography, but that's where another limitation comes in. It's not really that great for other types of photography, in my opinion. Of course there are no fixed rules but for me, this isn't a one-camera-to-rule-them-all solution. My X100F kind of did everything, from street to family portrait/documentary. The distortion of the 28mm lens, while minimal and well corrected, is noticeable on photos of people that you know well. Pictures of strangers, I honestly can't tell, but when you're tuned to the face of someone, even a slight variation stands out, so I don't find this camera great for taking pictures of my own family. 

Finally, the Leica menu options are a little frustrating at times. For example, there is a somewhat customizable back button that can be set for digital crop modes (default), AEL/AFL, AFL, or AEL. Most people are probably going to set this to AEL or AFL. If it is set to AEL, there is no on/off functionality, you have to continuously and awkwardly hold the button down to maintain exposure lock. And, since you've set the button for AEL or AFL, the digital zoom function can only be accessed with a menu dive, it cannot be set to the other customizable function button. The other customizable function button too also has a limited number of options, none of which I find useful. I could go on with other strange software choices that Leica has made, and no doubt, they are frustrating mostly because they could be easily fixed, but in the end none of them are so terrible that they outweigh what is a really great camera. 

Oh, and the dang thing isn't weather sealed. It might be absolutely fine if I took it out in the rain, but at this price point, I'm not willing to find out without a little more reassurance. 

The images here and on the web do not do this camera justice, in person they are stunning in their color and sharpness. The Leica Q is as close to a perfect street photographer's digital camera as I have ever used. I expect the next iteration to be even better.